Samba show shakes Saudi Arabia

Samba show shakes Saudi Arabia
An investigation has been opened into an incident where scantily dressed women performed a Samba dance in the street.
2 min read
The samba dancers were seen on the streets of Jazan, in the southwest [Getty]

Authorities in Saudi Arabia were investigating on Sunday after a samba performance by dancers some considered too scantily clad for the conservative kingdom, which has been diversifying its entertainment options.

Over the past week videos on social media have shown three foreign samba dancers displaying their moves in a main street of Jazan, in the southwest.

The women, who were taking part in the Jazan Winter Festival, wore coloured feathers emblematic of the Brazilian tradition with their legs, arms and bellies uncovered.

But they did not show as much flesh as samba dancers during Rio de Janeiro's annual carnival parades.

State-run El-Ekhbariya TV aired footage of the festival but blurred images of the women.

"Shows are for entertainment, not to attack good ways and to go against religion and social morals," one Jazan resident, Mohammed al-Bajwi told the channel.

On social media many others were indignant, demanding punishment for those responsible for the event.

One Twitter user, Ahmad al-Saneh, said however that he did not consider the dancers' dress excessively immodest.

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In Saudi Arabia, most local women still wear traditional cloak-like robes in public.

Faced with the conservative backlash Jazan's governor, Prince Mohammed bin Nasser, early Saturday ordered an inquiry and "necessary measures to prevent all abuse." He did not elaborate.

For the past five years Saudi Arabia, where two-thirds of the population is younger than 30, has been introducing a wide range of entertainment and sporting events from music concerts to cinema and a Formula One Grand Prix auto race.

The move, despite resistance from conservative hardliners, is part of a broad initiative by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for social reform and economic diversification of the oil-dependent economy, which hosts Islam's holiest sites and espouses Wahhabism, a rigid form of the religion.

In April 2020 authorities in the kingdom said they had executed a Yemeni man convicted over a knife attack on a Spanish theatre troupe during a live performance in Riyadh.

Critics and rights groups have said the kingdom is using major sports and entertainment events to whitewash its poor human rights record, including the 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.